|Steacy's artfully expressed study captures impact of digitisation|
In the past decade, as a percentage, more print journalists have lost their jobs than workers in any other significant American industry. (That bad news is felt just as keenly in Britain where a third of editorial jobs in newspapers have been lost since 2001.)Here's the quote the post title refers to; one you could quote possibly memorise as a great way of developing the basic point that a 'free press' are the cornerstone of our democracy (or, at least, our democratic theory!) ...
The reasons for this decline are familiar – the abrupt shift from print to pixels, the exponential rise in alternative sources of information, changes in lifestyle and reading habits, and, above all, the disastrous collapse of the city paper’s lifeblood – classified advertising – with the emergence of websites such as Craigslist and Gumtree. The implications are less often noted.
Stephan Salisbury, a prize-winning culture writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer for the past 36 years, puts them like this: “Newspapers stitch people together, weaving community with threads of information, and literally standing physically on the street, reminding people where they are and what they need to know. What happens to a community when community no longer matters and when information is simply an opportunity for niche marketing and branding in virtual space? Who covers the mayor? City council? Executive agencies? Courts?… It is this unravelling of our civic fabric that is the most grievous result of the decline of our newspapers. And it is the ordinary people struggling in the city who have lost the most, knowing less and less about where they are – even as the amount of information bombarding them grows daily at an astounding rate.”
In the heart of the city in which the constitution was written Steacy prefaces his project with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter…”Steacy's take on the disruptive force (I've highlighted that because 'disruption' is the technical term used to denote digital operations disrupting, or [creatively?] destroying existing industries and industrial practices) is similar to Andrew Keen's opposition to the cheerleaders of web 2.0*:
Steacy believes the story of metro newspapers has been a canary in the coalmine for other parts of society. “Technology can allow us to do things with greater efficiency and productivity, labour costs are reduced, but what I wanted to show is that there is a human element lost in that. We are in the middle of this huge transition, and the newspaper industry itself is very much at the front of this process that will happen in every other industry. The beneficiaries of this are a privileged and extremely wealthy few, but a broad spectrum of highly skilled workers are going to be displaced and out of luck for a very long time.”* I've read 2 of Keen's (short and very accessible; one is even free on Kindle - which is ironic!) books now, and will update this post rather than add a new one
Steacy develops the point on the disruptive force of digitisation further; his last point here is clearly one that guides masters of clickbait such as the immensely successful Mail Online operation!
“Rates are what they were 30 years ago,” he says. “A photograph in my eyes is no longer worth a thousand words. Since 2000, 43 per cent of American staff newspaper photographers have been laid off. And we are in an era when 400m photographs are uploaded to Snapchat a day.”
I wonder what kinds of stories the Inquirer trades most successfully in these days?
“The stories that receive the most clicks on philly.com,” Steacy suggests “are weather stories, celebrity stories, sex stories. I guess best of all is a celebrity sex story with a good weather angle…”